The Interbranch Commission implements recommendations from the Report of The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial, and Gender Bias in The Justice System. View the Report
The Interbranch Commission's genesis was a three-year study conducted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to determine whether racial or gender bias played a role in the justice system. The study was initiated in the fall of 1999 by then Chief Justice John Flaherty who appointed the Supreme Court Committee on Racial, and Gender Bias in the Justice System to conduct it. In March 2003, the Committee completed its study and submitted its 550-page Final Report with 173 recommendations to the Court. Eighteen months later, led by the Supreme Court, the leaders of the three branches of Pennsylvania state government announced the formation of a new Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness. The Interbranch Commission was charged with the responsibility of implementing the extensive recommendations from the study.
Considered a model among the nation's courts for addressing bias, the Interbranch Commission applies the resources of all three government branches to the implementation of the recommendations from the Court's study. Pursuant to its Mission Statement, the Commission also seeks to "raise both public and professional awareness of the impact of race, ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation or disability on the fair delivery of justice in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; suggest ways to reduce or eliminate such bias or invidious discrimination within all branches of government and within the legal profession; and increase public confidence in the fairness of all three branches of government in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."
Funded by the Legislature through the judicial branch, the Interbranch Commission has been endorsed and supported by the three branches of Pennsylvania government. Pursuant to the Commission's Bylaws, each branch appoints eight members of the Commission, for a total of 24 members. The members are diverse - geographically, racially, ethnically and by gender. All members are assigned to one or more of the six Commission Committees, including Criminal Justice, Jury Service, Interpreter Services, GLBT Rights, Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Victims, and Equal Opportunity and Diversity.
The full membership of the Interbranch Commission meets quarterly in one of three locations in the Commonwealth: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh or Harrisburg. One of the quarterly meetings is conducted for the public each year at which time the Commission's Annual Report is presented.
In the five years since its inception, the Commission has made great strides toward achieving its goals. Among other things, the Commission has devised a statewide policy for the Pennsylvania courts on Non-Discrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity, played a critical role in the passage of landmark legislation on the provision of interpreter services in the courts and administrative agencies, and produced a key report on enhancing the safety of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Pennsylvania's courthouses.
The Commission has also submitted a report and action plan to the Supreme Court for standardizing jury selection procedures in the state and increasing diversity among jury members, and is currently working on standardizing second parent adoption procedures throughout the Commonwealth. Reducing disparities within the criminal justice system is also a priority for the Commission, specifically in the application of the death penalty, in the operation of the indigent defense system and within the juvenile justice system. For more information on the work of all six of the Committees, see the website's Committee section.